Juvenal-The Sixteen Satires


The Sixteen Satires is probably my least liked ancient text that I have read. I have a pretty broad, but not deep, experience reading books not just from ancient Greece and Rome but also Indian, and the Near East.

I understand the importance of his place in history, and the importance that satires have as a literary form, it is just that it seemed like one long rant, like listening to a senile uncle complain about everything, and how nothing is as good as it was in his day.

No one is to be trusted, especially women. He hates gays, Greeks, Egyptians, Jews and probably a host more that I just did not take note of. He dislikes working people and the common man. The aristocracy is no longer filling a number of roles that it should be, and here is where I find it interesting.

He often complains about the changing role of clients to the nobility. At one time they were people that were followers of an aristocrat who in turn fed them and often entertained them. The aristocrats in turn provided him with an entourage that apparently showed to society at large how important that individual was. Juvenal was in the group. He complained that at one time they got great food and good wine, then food baskets and then just cash. He laments that a group has become professional followers and are (apparently) edging out people such as him.

I did learn a good deal about the sordid underside of higher Roman society, even if much of it is a bit sketchy on the facts, and should be questioned. While he presents it as a snap shot of everyday life most reviews I have checked have said that it is nothing of the sort. The book is basically on long litany of complaints and, at least to me, got very tedious.


Another point not in favor of the book was the translation. I understand that translation is an art, and that often each generation gets a new one that reflects in some ways the current culture as well as what is being translated. I took Latin in high school and struggled mightily with Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico, with results that often did not match what Caesar was saying. However translating a Latin phrase into a French one does not seem quite kosher. But that is one of the minor complains that I have.

The Romans did not have problems with the Prussians nor with the Moors. They did not use farthings or gold guineas. I am pretty sure that people who went to the race track (why not use hippodrome since most people reading this would know what that was?) did not wear track suits. The list goes on and on. For a book such as this I am assuming it is for more than the casual reader and they understand who any of the tribes the Romans dealt with as well as terms that deal with items used in daily life such as coinage. It takes away from the feel of the book by using 20th century terms instead.

The version I read was a Penguin Classics translated by Peter Green. I was interested to note that in looking at a review for a more recent translation by Green he laments the liberties he took with the version that I read, so I might give it a second look but honestly I doubt it.

I am sure that there are positives from the book that I did not take away. It did help refresh my memory about some of the short lived Emperors of this time, but right now that is pretty much all I can say. Well that and I discovered De Bello Africa, about Caesar’s campaigns against his republican enemies in Africa.

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